Suzu Naito is a 17-year-old high school student with a secret: she’s actually the beloved musical star “Belle,” the most popular avatar in the virtual-reality world known as “U.” Belle is everything Suzu is not — beautiful, confident, and loved for her strange songs that appear to resonate with everyone in U. But more than just a secret identity for Suzu, Belle is an outlet for the teenager, who suffered a shattering loss when she was young. While out swimming by the river with her mom, a child got caught in a strong current and was beginning to get pulled underwater. Her mom immediately jumped to save her, despite Suzu’s pleas for her to stay, and drowned in the process of saving the child. Since then, Suzu withdrew from life, giving her dad, with whom she had never been close, the cold shoulder and resenting her mom for “abandoning” her for a stranger’s child. But worst of all, she lost her ability to sing. When she was young, she and her mom would always sing together and create songs, but after her mom died, it was as if a light went out in her life. But somehow, that light is reignited when she receives an invite to U.
With someone else’s face and a new identity, Suzu is able to temporarily shed all her baggage and finally sing. And miraculously, her singing starts to bring joy to other people. Soon, she becomes the most popular singer in U and, with the help of her best friend and tech genius Hiroka, she remakes herself into a glamorous diva. But when one of her concerts is interrupted by a beastly avatar known as “The Dragon,” she becomes involved in a tense plot to unveil the identity of the scarred fighter whom the guardians of U deem a threat to the peace.
It’s not exactly the plot to “Beauty and the Beast,” but the hallmarks of the fairy tale are all there: the sympathetic beauty, the misunderstood beast, the dilapidated castle in which The Dragon takes shelter. But the thing missing from “Belle” is romance, at least in the traditional sense. Suzu finds herself fascinated with The Dragon, but not for the reasons that you’d expect from a “Beauty and the Beast” retelling. Rather, she recognizes in his eyes a fellow wounded soul, and seeks him out, only to be pushed away by the angry avatar, who accuses her of only being kind to him out of pity.